Evangelism requires sensitivity in approaching people so they do not reject the gospel before even hearing it.
The beginnings of the Baptist Movement in Croatia trace back to the missionary influence of Johann G. Oncken (1800-84), the “Father of European Baptists.”
The very first Baptist congregations in two Croatian communities, Zagreb and Daruvar, were founded in the 1890s. Between World War I and World War II, significant growth occurred and is attributed mainly to the leadership of evangelist Vinko Vacek.
At that time, Croatian Baptists numbered about 600 and were part of Yugoslavia. Further growth was possible after World War II as the Baptist congregations were planted in several industrial cities, like Rijeka, Sisak, Karlovac.
The Croatian Baptist Union was formed in 1991 and has enjoyed more growth, even to the extent of doubling the number of members and congregations. Forty-eight churches and mission stations are composed of 2,000 members.
One of the new church plants is in Ivanec, about 100 kilometers from Zagreb. Fifteen to 20 people have been regularly meeting for a Bible study and prayer during the last two years.
The meetings take place in a rented hall and are led by the indigenous church planter, Jonatan, who had studied theology in Croatia and the U.S. and is married to Daniela; they have two children.
Jonatan says, “There are two reasons that make us plant a church in Ivanec: the Great Commission and God’s love for the people who need Christ. Our vision is to start a congregation that will be able to influence its vicinity. We also have to recognize that evangelism requires sensitivity in approaching people so that they do not reject the gospel before even hearing it.”
Since 2011, Jonatan has led the organization “I Want Life,” which significantly contributes to the spread of the gospel through social projects.
Thanks to this, it is possible to organize summer camps and to provide humanitarian assistance, Christian counseling and music lessons to socially vulnerable families and collaborate with other organizations with a similar focus.
Following that, in 2016, “The House of Opportunity” was launched, a program for young people who at the age of 18 leave the national social welfare system and have no place to go.
At the moment, six young people are preparing for an independent life through a mentoring program that lasts two years.
Church members volunteer to help the pupils by spending time and chatting with them about life as well as trying to share the gospel and teach the basics of Christian discipleship.
The goal of this ministry is to help the participants in the transitional period as they aspire to become independent.
Through these activities, God opened many doors, including a gospel mission in the town of Ivanec.
Ivanec has about 15,000 inhabitants. A group of 10 Christians there have a mission to pray and try to win people for Christ.
They go from house to house visiting the inhabitants of Ivanec with a questionnaire and asking questions of Christian faith in order to raise awareness of local people about spiritual things.
So far, they have visited at least 500 local homes and usually experienced a friendly welcome, including a few invitations to return, although there has been a strong opposition from the local Roman Catholic priest.
In addition to that, they have been working with young people in Ivanec through guitar lessons.
They have invited their parents to participate in the evangelization evenings and concerts or film shows; some are ready to join the Bible study group.
Jonatan coaches one local leader, who studies theology and will move in the future with his family to Ivanec.
The mother church, “Emmanuel” from Varaždin, has encouraged this work by sending out a couple of people to join the mission team, renting a meeting hall and through prayers.
There is also excellent cooperation with the Baptist Union of Croatia and the European Baptist Federation for establishing a new church in Ivanec.
The Baptist congregation of Varazdin was started 25 years ago and has developed a program of planting several Baptist congregations in the region, one of them being Ivanec.
Jonatan wrote in a recent ministry report: “I believe that God has inspired us to establish a congregation in Ivanec by giving me a vision for the towns in the Varaždin region that are without an evangelical witness.”
“Through the collaboration with local organizations and individual meetings, God has connected us with 25 young people and their families who expressed a need for Christ as their personal Savior,” he said. “The total number is 50 people with whom we have built friendly relationships. We have started a Bible study group for local people and are excited about what else God has in His store.”